Another light and fluffy blog day to wish you all a super and safe 2015! I promised you flowers!
To continue on with my few short segments on the strange things I have found growing in my garden….. Hopefully you’ll find a few surprises amongst them and learn a little too! Thanks go (yet again) to the guru who has planted many strange things over the years and found, by trial and error, which are the “fittest” for our climate and soil!
Exhibit B: Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora)
Bergamot, native to the southern states of the USA and Mexico, are within the Lamiales Order of the Asterid subclass of Dicotyledonous flowering plants.
For those of us non-Latin speakers, who want to learn a little more…. Dicotyledonous (normally shorted to Dicots) refers to the group of plants which flower and whose seed has two embryonic leaves or cotyledons. The Bergamot belongs to the Asterid clade (Clade being a subset with only one known ancestor) which in turn is a subdivision of the Eudicot clade which contains most of the common food plants, trees and ornamentals within the Dicotyledonous . (Reference)
Bergamot Order – Lamiales (within the Astrid clade) includes about 20 families which include such well-known and/or economically important plants as lavender, lilac, olive, jasmine, snapdragon, sesame, psyllium, garden sage, and a number of table herbs such as mint, basil, and rosemary. (Reference)
Bergamot Family – Lamiaceae (“The mint family of flowering plants” within the Lamiales order) contains the aromatic plants which make up most of the widely used herbs such as spearmint and peppermint (Mentha), bee balm / Bergamot (Monarda), basil (Ocimum), lemon balm (Melissa), rosemary (Rosmarinus), sage (Salvia), savory (Satureja), marjoram (Origanum majorana), oregano (Origanum vulgare), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), catnip (Nepeta cataria), thyme (Thymus), and lavender (Lavandula). This group typically has flowers with petals fused into an upper lip and a lower lip. (Reference A, Reference B)
Bergamot Genus – Monarda include both annual and perennial herbaceous plants. They grow erect to heights of up to 90 cm . Their narrow, serrated, long leaves are oppositely arranged on the stem, hairless or sparsely hairy. (Reference) The flowers are hermaphroditic, with male and female structures in each flower, and often are presented in the formation of double flowers. Flowers of the Monarda genus are well known for their attraction of pollinating birds and insects as well as many predatory insects.
And so we arrive at the Species Monarda Citriodora (aka Bergamot). Also known as Lemon Beebalm (not to be confused with lemon balm, Melissa officinalis) , Lemon Mint (this may also apply to Melissa officinalis) and Purple Horsemint.
But why is it in my “Crazy Plants” discussion and why should anyone care?
1) First it’s the visual – yes, as I mentioned before, I’m a sucker for flowers, but they have to have to be fascinating or awe inspiring, pretty just ain’t gonna cut it. My preference is also for them to be attached to a living plant! The following photos are of our plants in mid December. Look closely and consider the lengths they have gone to in order to stand out from the crowd:
As you can see, they:
- Don’t waste space, with flower upon flower up the stems – seen a little more clearly in this second photo, take before the colour eruption commences.
- You can see that the leaves are long, thin and green except just below the flower, where they start to change step by step into the purple petals getting broader and pinker until the final definition of the flower is seen.
- They love to try all types of petals… the lower ones are the classic flat upturned petals, but the main ring taking up most of the space between this flower and the next one up, is made up of the typical Lamiaceae petals where they are fused into an upper lip and a lower lip as we learnt above. Looking closer it feels like there are many mouths just waiting for food…. gorgeous yet sinister. “The narrow upper lip of the corolla functions as a protective hood, while the narrow lower lip has 3 terminal lobes and functions as a landing pad for floral visitors.” (Reference)
- Spend a little time marveling at the visual – what else catches your attention….
BOTANICAL WORD(S) of the DAY “whorl” – a term used to describe the “attachment of sepals, petals, leaves, or branches at a single point”. (Reference) So bullet point two above could be re-written as “Underneath each whorl of flowers, there is a whorl of floral bracts with a colorful leafy appearance.” (Reference) Of course then I had to look up bracts, so we all get a BONUS BOTANICAL WORD…”bract” – a “modified or specialised leaf especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower.” (Reference) For completeness, and to save you straying from the topic, a “corolla” is a collective term for the petals (may or may not be specific to a specific whorl of petals, but nothing to do with the bracts.) Not sure any of this will come in handy at a quiz night….but I digress.
2) Second its the ease of growing –
These beauties can be found growing in the roadside ditches, and across the prairies from between Arizona and Florida. Whilst they are stated as preferring clay soils in many articles, the Plants for a Future (PFAF) website states “Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.”
They are an annual who will die with the first frost (or becomes straggly with prolonged cooler weather but may stretch to a perennial with love – in Perth, we did not try as, similar to Chilacayote, when it grows so well from seed, the effort to help it survive across winter is not rewarded). They are known to prefer light, dry alkaline soil, but are suitable for soils across the pH spectrum. There is conflict in the articles regarding full sun only, but we found dappled shade from a huge box gum was not an issue (the PFAF group agrees stating semi-shade to no-shade). Seeds should be planted in early to mid spring in Perth (but without frosts, the timing is not such an issue and even mid to late Summer planting will provide rewards). Germination usually takes place within 10 – 40 days at 20°c. Once germinated, it grows quickly and can reached up to 3 feet high. The Bergamot is drought tolerant – requiring very little water – so brilliant in Perth. The plant is also self fertilising and therefore whilst bee pollination is essential, a second plant is not. It flowers through December and January, but can be enticed to bloom much longer if given more water through late summer. As the flower fades, it is replaced by a nutlet which will be distributed primarily by gravity. The annual then dies, covering and providing nutrients to the new plant which will raise its head when the warms returns next summer. The plant will also grow from cuttings of the soft basal shoots. (Reference A, Reference B, Plants for a Future (PFAF), Reference D)
3) Thirdly it is a bee, bird and garden predator magnet – speaks for itself really with the benefits it brings to the other plants in the garden.
4) Fourthly it is for the uses:
Both the leaves (raw or cooked) and flowers are edible and there are no known hazards associated with the plant. (Plants for a Future (PFAF))
Culinary Uses (Reference A):
- It is an aromatic herb with a lemon-like aroma
- The flower petals and raw chopped leaves can be to salads, fruit cups and fruit drinks.
- Add cooked leaves to pork and game dishes (perhaps with a last minute flower garnish to dazzle guests!)
- Freeze chopped/ or single flowers in ice cubes
- It can be used in some wines and liqueurs for a persistent lemony flavour.
- It can also be a flavouring in cakes, sauces and pies.
- The leaves can be added to plain tea to create a form of Earl Grey or be consumed as a tea leaf in its own right. (Reference)
Medicinal Uses. It is said that:
- Leaves contain citronellol which is extracted as the essential oil citronella and is an effective insect repellent when rubbed on the skin. (Reference) It is also known to deter fleas and mites so placement of the plant and prunings can be part of the management of these pests.
- Some attribute the relief of colds, coughs, fevers, and respiratory problems with the drinking of tea made from the leaves. (Reference)
Other Possible Uses:
- Cosmetic: Facial steam. Aromatherapy
So I think, on so many levels, the Bergamot qualifies for the Crazy (Good) Plant Section of this blog and I look forward to nature’s Monarda citriodora floral arrangement for many years to come.
Looking to the future – more fun awaits with blogs (so many already in draft!) on Permaculture Design, Plants, Insects, Soil and much, much, more in 2015…. plus the Soil Hugger’s inaugural public appearance…..
Remember, if there is an edible plant, soil, Permaculture or a related topic you’re curious about (I still have my soil resuscitation blog in draft, but it will get a guernsey soon, I promise!), put in a request and we can add it to the blogging list. There is so much to explore!
Still to come….
Exhibit C: St Mary’s Thistle
Exhibit D: The Lion’s Tail or Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagger
Exhibit E: The New Guinea Bean
Exhibit F: Wild Passionfruit
Exhibit G: Slipper Gourd
Exhibit H: African Cucumber
Until then, enjoy.